Apple’s New iPad Air Is Finally Here with M1 Power and 5G at an Affordable Price

iPad Air 5 Colors Credit: Apple
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Although Apple’s Peek Performance event turned out to have a few surprises in store, the next generation of Apple’s mid-range iPad Air arrived almost exactly as we’d expected.

This even included an eleventh-hour rumour yesterday that Apple would jump past the 6-core A15 chip added to the iPad mini 6 last fall and go straight into the same M1 territory occupied by the iPad Pro.

Apple’s Engineering Program Manager for iPad, Angellina Kyazike, took to the stage to show off the new iPad Air, which retains the same thin and light design as its predecessor while packing in an unprecedented level of performance.

According to Kyazike, the new iPad Air will pack in the same M1 chip as the iPad Pro in every way, including an 8-core GPU for amazing graphics performance that’s up to twice as fast as the prior iPad Air, and overall performance that 60% faster than its predecessor.

The M1 chip allows the iPad Air to once again pull ahead of its smaller sibling, the iPad mini 6, and it does so by a pretty big leap. While many had expected the iPad Air 5 to simply match the iPad mini 6 by using the same A15 chip — after all, the iPad Air 4 went with the A14 — the move to the M1 takes it well beyond.

For one thing, the M1 has 8 CPU cores and 8 GPU cores, while the A15 only packs in a six-core GPU and a five-core GPU.

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Kyazike didn’t make any comparisons to the iPad mini 6, but did note that the M1 also means that the iPad Air 5 is now twice as fast as the best-selling Windows laptop in its price range — a device that’s three times thicker and four times heavier.

The move to the M1 also means that users of Apple’s more affordable tablet can get the same performance in demanding apps that was previously the exclusive domain of the iPad Pro. For instance, Kyazike showed how the 16-core Neural Engine allows Adobe Lightroom to intelligently select sky from the foreground with just a tap, providing fast and seamless editing.

While the iPad Pro will almost certainly move beyond the M1 in its next update, for now, the iPad Air and iPad Pro are completely on par when it comes to raw performance.

Center Stage and 5G

As expected, the iPad Air 5 also gained the same Ultra Wide front camera that’s already on every other iPad, from the low-end 9th-generation model to the M1 iPad Pro.

This powers Apple’s Center Stage feature, which Kyazike said has been hugely popular for connecting with friends, colleagues, and loved ones, and means that all iPad models now feature Center Stage.

Naturally, the iPad Air is gaining ultra-fast 5G support, too, which also appears to be the same as what’s found in the iPad Pro. With the debut of the new 5G-capable iPhone SE, this leaves the 9th-generation iPad as the only model in Apple’s lineup that’s still lacking 5G support. We’d be surprised if that doesn’t change by the end of this year, however.

Kyazike did offer up one small but pleasant surprise, however. While it doesn’t look like the iPad Air will get the full Thunderbolt support that its more expensive counterpart offers, Kyazike did share that Apple has managed to double the speeds of the USB-C port, so that users will be able to transfer large photos and videos even more quickly.

The new iPad Air 5 will come in a new array of five colours, with Apple’s now-standard Starlight replacing the previous white finish. However, the darker neutral colour will still be Space Grey, rather than the Midnight shade of Apple’s iPhone lineup. For those looking for more vibrant options, Apple is also offering pink, purple, and what Kyazike describes as a “stunning new blue.”

New iPad Air Pricing and Availability

Apple isn’t increasing the storage capacities, so anybody who wants more than 256GB will still need to look to the iPad Pro instead.

The iPad Air 5 will be available in 64GB and 256GB capacities, and of course in Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + Cellular models, starting at the same $599 price tag as its predecessor.

You’ll be able to preorder the new tablet this Friday, and it’s expected to hit stores on March 18.

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